Year C, Transfiguration
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
What would you do if you knew that you could not fail? It’s an interesting question to ponder. There are some people who live like that. They try anything. They have no fear. Sometimes that translates into recklessness, sometimes not. Then there are those people who are scared, but they do it anyways because something or someone is supporting them, providing confidence and hope. Jesus lived this way (as though he could not fail) and so did Paul and the other disciples. Paul and the disciples were not reckless, although I am sure that some people around them thought they were. They had confidence not because of displaced sense of self-importance but because they believed that God was in their corner.
The section that we heard from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is a bit tricky. If it seemed a little confusing to you, you are in good company. Paul was referencing the story of Moses. When Moses encountered God in the Old Testament, God’s glory was so bright, that Moses’ face would glow. Then he would have to veil his face because God’s glory would actually scare people. He had to protect people from God’s glory.
Paul was explaining to the Corinthians that everything changed when Jesus came, because God’s glory came to us in human form. Even though Jesus died and his body left this earth, his glory remains, in the people of God. We no longer have to fear God’s glory because humans are able to take on that glory.
We do not talk a lot about God’s glory because it seems inaccessible—just out there. However, the point that Paul was trying to make was that it is accessible. Jesus made it accessible. If we turn to God, not only can we glimpse God’s glory, we can become a part of it. We can be participants in God’s glory. Paul wrote, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
If you look at the front of our bulletin, you will see that our mission statement is “to live in the Spirit of Christ.” To some that might seem abstract and there is certainly room for interpretation. If we read the mission statement in light of Paul’s words, then living in the Spirit of Christ means that we are being transformed into God’s glorious image from one degree of glory to another. It means that we can live without fear of failure because we have God’s Spirit. Living without fear of failure doesn’t mean that we don’t ever fail. In fact, it means that we will probably fail more often. It also means that we will have more opportunities to be the people who God calls us to be, to truly embody the glory of God.
Now I have to admit, that I am not really good at casting off fear and living boldly. I am cautious. (I have had some variation of the same hair style since I was in 5th grade.) But I am not the only cautious one in our church. Christians have become complacent over the last several hundred years. We got comfortable in the 20th century. We became accustomed to being the majority. We got used to sitting in places of power. And once you have that comfortable position, well it’s harder to take risks. We have more to lose.
The early church was full of risk. We might say, well it was easier because they had less to lose. While they did not have the reputation of the established church to worry about, they certainly had a lot to lose. Paul was an important person in the Jewish faith. He had authority. He was also a Roman citizen, which meant he was well respected and a little more comfortable than the average Jew. He gave that all up, so that he could walk hundreds of miles and talk to people about Jesus—so he could be beaten and imprisoned—so he could be mocked and criticized—so he could be the greatest evangelist who ever lived.
The first line of our reading for today is, “Since, then, we have such hope, we act with great boldness.” When Paul said that we act with boldness, he was referencing not his own self confidence and valor, but the boldness that comes with freedom. The origin of his freedom was the Spirit of the Lord. It was the Spirit of the Lord that gave him the freedom to live as though he had no fear, to live boldly and to never lose heart. That Spirit of the Lord resides with all of us—gives us all the freedom to live boldly.
So forget that question I started with: What would you do if you knew you could not fail? The better question is: What would do if you knew that failure was a part of our Christian journey and that failure was a part of bold action? We don’t risk failing so that we can achieve glory, we take risks because we already share in God’s glory. Every time we act with boldness in our life as Christians—we do so with the Spirit of God within us. By acting boldly, we come closer to the people who God calls us to be.
Being bold and taking risks is not easy. I know that. Yet I am convinced that our church needs boldness. We need to take risks if we want to continue transforming from one degree of glory to the other. If we are able to partake in these risks together, then we can be there for one another when we do fail and rejoice with one another when we succeed.
There are a lot of people out there who will tell you that the church is dying. I do not believe that. However, if we continue on our current trajectory, the denominational churches won’t last the next 100 years. That makes me sad, because I think there are a lot of churches (St. John’s being one of them) that are worth saving. If there ever was a time to be bold in our churches, it is now. If there ever was a time to take risks, it is now. I believe that if we are bold in our faith and embody the glory of God, we will survive and thrive. But if I am wrong…and the church doesn’t survive, wouldn’t you rather go out in a blaze of glory? We have been “fighten sin since 1610” but maybe it’s time to stop fighting against something and start fighting for something, fighting for transformation and God’s glory. Will you fight with me?